TOBYHANNA -- Officials at the Tobyhanna Army Depot have allowed Newswatch 16 to get a look at some of what they actually do. We got a rare look inside our area's largest employer.
If there is anyone who can tell us about the change and growth at Tobyhanna Army Depot in Monroe County, it's Frank Zardecki.
"This is the parking lot, but the airfield was right here," he said.
The deputy commander started working at Tobyhanna in the 1960s making the bare minimum for depot employees. Now, 48 years later, he's the man in charge, and has been since 1991.
"Whether it's in vehicles, aircraft, satellite terminals, we do it all," Zardecki said.
In building after building, we were shown all the different pieces of radar, radios, and other pieces of electronics that are built, configured, and repaired right here in northeastern Pennsylvania and used around the world.
"It's not the same place it was back then," Zardecki added. "Today we are a world class facility."
Like other military installations, the depot has gone through tough times, whether it was fighting to stay open during BRAC hearings in 1995 and 2005, or because of federal budget cuts going from 5,000 workers to 3,500 in just the past five years.
"The military is downsizing. There's no question about it."
As the drawdown continues, leaders at Tobyhanna say there will be a greater emphasis on improving the software technology and creating more opportunities outside their traditional workload.
"We were primarily in the past a hardware depot. We fixed things. We fixed radios. We fixed radars. Today we're so much more than that, technical assistance, field assistance."
Right now, 600 depot employees are working outside the walls of the installation, even overseas, including people like Therese Paxton, an electronics mechanic who has been deployed four times to Afghanistan to fix equipment.
"We fix these when they break, which isn't very often, but it does happen," said Paxton.
Paxton's current job at the depot is a relatively new one. She helps run what's called "the live fire test simulator chamber."
"It is the only one in the world."
Built in 2008, the chamber simulates live rounds from mortars, rockets, and other artillery.
The tests help confirm that the defensive radar system identifies enemy fire the way it's supposed to.
"This system saves lives. It saved mine numerous times in theater."
It's these advanced systems Zardecki says will keep Tobyhanna open for years.
"We're the economic engine for northeast PA. Work isn't just given to us. There's no money just given to us as an appropriation from Congress to Tobyhanna. We get paid from our customers for the products we produce or services we rendered."